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Controversy at the Sheltie Ring

I HAD a couple of subjects in mind to write about this week then something happened at Southern Counties at the weekend that reminded me of that famous quotation by Shaw, or was it Wilde? That Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language, although maybe in this case its divided by a common breed with a variable breed Standard.

Controversy reigned around the Sheltie rings last weekend and since we published the story on our website this week it has attracted thousands of hits and fulsome comment. So here’s what happened when exhibitors complained that the Sheltie judge did not follow the British Standard at a UK show.

Exhibitors have filed an official complaint to the UK Kennel Club about the judging of Shetland Sheepdogs at Southern Counties CH show.
Finnish judge Kari Järvinen incensed some competitors and spectators when he gave the BCC to Am Ch Hillstone Hallelujah. It was the bitch’s first CC since she arrived from the US two years ago, and the first US-bred Sheltie to win one.

Two pages of signatures were collected and taken to the secretary’s office to lodge the complaint that Mr Järvinen had not judged to the British Standard. The complainants claimed that the five-year-old bitch, who is owned by Mike Gadsby, Jason Lynn and Tom and Nioma Coen, differs in several ways to the British type, including shape of head and eye and bone density.

There was a stunned silence among many watching the judging as the BCC winner was announced. One was seen to bend down and bang his head on his hands, saying, ‘This can’t happen’.

Afterwards Mr Gadsby went over to a gathering of people who were voicing their disapproval and spoke to them at some length. Later he brought over the bitch to those who were left and invited them to go over her.

Chairman David Cavill confirmed that the complaint and comments made by other exhibitors who were not unhappy would be forwarded to the KC.
“The core element of the complaint was that Mr Järvinen had not judged to the British Standard,” he said. Exhibitor Valerie Winfield said the majority of those competing or watching were unhappy.

“There was a fair bit of dissent among the exhibitors about the judging,” she said. “I think there were several issues, including that he had withheld some places – as far as I can remember three in puppy dogs, two in graduate dogs and two or three in maiden bitch.

“I feel he wasn’t judging to British type and Standard. The bitch’s head and eye shape is different – it didn’t conform to what the British Standard says.

“There was plenty of discussion between the parties concerned and eventually two pages of signatures were collected along with £35 so the complaint could be lodged – although the money was not needed.

“Kari Järvinen said he didn’t think the dogs he judged were of good quality. An awful lot of people weren’t happy at all – I would say the majority of the people. It wasn’t sour grapes because a lot of those who signed had won or were placed.”

Kay Hateley, who won post graduate bitch with Sommerville Blue Pearl, said she had not liked Mr Jarvinen’s judging technique, and that she thought Hallelujah was ‘totally alien’ to the British Standard.

“I’ve judged all over the world and at Crufts and I have to say I feel very saddened by what happened,” she said.

“It seems that they are trying to take the breed by storm. There’s already an American influence in Shelties in Finland.”

Mrs Hateley said she thought the bitch differed in several ways including bone, length of body and leg, and shape of face.
DOG WORLD’s breed note writer Barbara Thornley, who was judging Rough Collies at the show, said that some people felt there had been an ‘invasion of American blood’.

“Feelings were running pretty high,” she said. “We’re a very parochial breed – like a family – and we are very possessive and protective of breed type. “The judge was judging as he thought and so it’s really not up to anybody to criticise his decision; in his eyes that’s how he saw it. But it really got people going.”

Mrs Thornley, who spoke to Mr Järvinen later, said he had not been impressed with the quality of the dogs he judged.

“I told him that we worked very hard in this country to protect breed type, and that we would have to differ in our opinion,” she said. Debbie Pearson said she had been bitterly disappointed by the exhibitors’ reaction and subsequent complaint.

“The bottom line is that the bitch got the CC and everyone will just have to deal with it,” she said. “I got second to her in open bitch so I should be the one who’s complaining.

“I would say to those who are upset ‘Your dog lost so go home and deal with it. You go to a show for the judge’s opinion and now you’ll just have to wait for the next show’.”

Mr Järvinen told DOG WORLD that he had studied the British Standard ‘very carefully’ before undertaking his appointment.”I’ve been judging dogs since 1969 in 80 different countries,” he said. “The British Standard says working breeds are supposed to be sturdy. Dogs who are tiny and shy cannot do the work they are supposed to do.

“This bitch is a good mover with a good body – exactly what the Standard is asking for. She does not have an ideal head but she has very much the right style.”
In a written statement later that day he said: “I understand some exhibitors of Shetland Sheepdogs at Southern Counties signed a petition against my judging of their breed, claiming that I was not judging to the British breed Standard. I thank the exhibitors for entering for my opinion of their dogs and this is what I endeavoured to give.

“In the first place I should point out that there is very little difference between the Fédération Cynologique Internationale Standard – to which I have been judging this breed since the ‘80s – as FCI routinely adopts breed Standards from the country of origin. What there may be, however, are differences in interpretation and fashions which can change with time in many breeds from country to country.

Correct anatomy

“However, fashions have nothing to do with breed Standards. “As far as the Shetland Sheepdog is concerned it is very important that we all – breeders, exhibitors and judges – remember that this is first and foremost a small, functional, herding dog. To do its job efficiently it must have the correct anatomy and structure, be well muscled and have the character and desire to do the job it was meant for. It must be soundly made and sound moving.

“While some specialists may have personal preferences when it comes to interpreting the finer details of the Standard, the fact that this is fundamentally a functioning working breed is a matter of fact not opinion.

“I am now aware that both my CC winners were bred outside the UK but I was in the ring to judge to the breed Standard and not to the passport. I would respectfully suggest that those who signed this complaint go back to their breed Standard, study it, look at my winners again and then ask themselves if their allegations are justified.”

In a joint statement Mr Gadsby and Mr Lynn said the incident had turned into ‘a bit of a witch hunt’. “The first thing to consider in trying to understand this ‘debate’ is that the Standard for the breed in both countries is quite similar,” they said in their statement. “Some of the adjectives are tweaked and the US Standard does allow for more height, but in the main the points set out for the ‘ideal’ Sheltie on paper are very much in line on both Continents. “Despite what some will suggest it is not a separate breed, and the American dogs are firmly rooted in the British imports who made their way to that country. The differences lie in what traits the breeders in each place have selected for more than anything else.

“There are lots of dogs in the US who don’t fit our personal ideal, just as there are in the UK, but those who say that ‘all’ American-bred Shelties are ‘bad’ are simply misinformed. I would guess most of them have never been to an American show or kennel and are simply repeating what others say. “What drew us to the American dogs in the first place was their movement, soundness and temperament. These dogs look liked they could work if asked. They have presence, and firm toplines both standing and in motion.

“From there we’ve tried to hone in the American breeders who consistently produce Shelties who are moderate in size and bone so as to remain elegant. And last but not least, those dogs with the head details that are so clearly spelled out in the British and American Standards and are unique to the breed. These include a balanced head with parallel planes, flat top skull, slight but definite stop, smooth cheeks and rounded muzzle with a blunt finish created by sufficient under jaw.
“Our American champion bitch at the centre of the talk at Southern Counties stands around 14.5in and is not only a sound, easier mover but has a head which adheres to all of the points mentioned above. In April Jason spent a week at the American Shetland Sheepdog Association national specialty and can tell you there were many dogs who could walk into the ring in Britain and not look out of place in regard to size and outline, and who by and large possessed better movement than is often found here in the UK.

“We invited several of the women who signed this statement to go over our bitch after the judging, and they were surprised to see that any appearance of ‘heavy bone’ was in fact nothing more than hair, and that her head was in fact light and smooth. One of them apologised for having been swept up in what became a bit of a witch hunt…

“Our plan for the future is to incorporate the best British dogs with our American-bred bitches which has already proven successful in Australia and elsewhere. In fact, Debbie Pearson made up a sable bitch some years back who was half US-bred. “If others here in Britain don’t share that vision, that’s fine by us, but we will continue to breed with a view to maintaining head type and expression along with movement, soundness and temperament benefiting  a working dog. And we will use dogs who we think will achieve that goal regardless of where they live!

“We have received many positive comments from Sheltie exhibitors and feel motivated to move ahead in our pursuits with this lovely little breed. “We were really pleased with Mr Järvinen’s comments and observations following his judging and hope that the behaviour of a vocal minority did not put a dampener on his day.”

- See more at: http://www.dogworld.co.uk/product.php/115523/34/exhibitors_complain_that_sheltie_judge_did_not_follow_british_standard/9f584147bf061561b322f240fd986d6d#sthash.oHw9wkrR.dpuf

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